The Human Brain & Getting Along

The human brain is a marvelously mysterious and incredible thing. It protects us from harm, brings us closer to other humans, and helps us when we aren’t even aware of it. It classifies everything we look at without even thinking about it. Well, that’s not true; it is thinking, we just don’t realize that’s what we’re doing.

Try looking at a sign in your native language and ‘not’ reading it. Impossible unless you see it so quickly that the brain does not compute the message. But even then, it probably did compute it and we just don’t know how to get at the information.

When we see something or someone, our brain immediately tries to identify what it is seeing. Instinct comes into play and the brain decides as quickly as possible if what it is seeing is beneficial or dangerous. It asks questions. The order that it asks is debatable but still important. I believe we subconsciously think 1) safety 2) possession 3) consumption 4) desire 5) longevity.

So our brain might ask is the object, animal, or person safe… is it mine… can I consume it in some way… do I want it… do I want to include it in my life long term.

Knowing this I conducted an experiment and I tried to pay attention to all of the different signals my brain received while I was driving down the street one afternoon. So many signals! Driving is not difficult and has become somewhat second nature to me mainly because I’ve been doing it for several years. I knew I was finally a ‘driver’ when I arrived at a destination one day and couldn’t recall the drive… I was just there. Explaining defensive driving to a new driver is very difficult because so much of it becomes instinct the longer you are a driver. You see everything… the driver two cars ahead, the person behind you putting on their makeup, the bicyclist who weaves along the sidewalk glancing over his shoulder to bolt in front of you, the group of kids on the other side of the street bouncing a ball, the traffic light, the Harley growling passed, the glare of the sun off your water bottle into your eye. It’s crazy how much we see and NOT see within moments.

Another time I was people watching and tried to pay attention to the way I viewed people. When we view other people, we decide if that person is safe, if we know them and, if not, if we want to. Our brain describes the person within seconds which in turn answers the questions necessary for survival. We might ask ‘does the person look friendly and if yes, do I want to get to know them… if no, how dangerous is the situation and how must I act… do I need to get away or is the situation safe’. We might see someone who looks familiar and ask ‘do I know that person and if yes, do I want to say hi or do I want to avoid them’. So many questions asked within seconds of seeing another person.

One of the big subjects in the world today is that people are prejudice against other people. I’ve heard the statement that we classify people into groups or classes and that makes us prejudice, or these days, racist. Truth be told, there are prejudices in the world towards many nationalities, religions, and any other number of subjects. I won’t get into the notion that some people cannot be prejudice while other people are inherently always prejudice. I do not agree with that idea. I feel anyone can be hateful against anyone else or any group of people for any reason no matter who they are.

Here’s the thing about classifications. We classify things shortly after birth. It does not make us racist or sexist or any other number of ‘ists’. What it makes us is human. It’s based primarily on our senses. Sight is a big one but our sense of hearing, smell, touch, and taste also come into play. We will also base an evaluation of another person on past experiences and this is often the biggest factor to our way of determining if someone is safe or dangerous. Yes, sometimes we are wrong but after so many times of being right, it’s hard to ignore the warning signs. And yes, sometimes our decisions are based on stereotypes and that can lead to unfortunate losses where friendships could have started.

Let’s stop for a second and explain the following words. Prejudice, racist, and bigot. When I was a teenager I don’t recall hearing the word racist. Back then the words were prejudice or bigot. To me, prejudice is a word that can cover any number of subjects. I can be prejudice against a certain brand of clothing or a certain type of soda. It can also mean a person is prejudice against another person because of any number of reasons.

Bigot has always been a nasty word and to me it means someone who hates a person or group of people because they are different they are. Typically it is against another nationality or color but can cover several subjects. The word racist is closely related to bigot and, in my mind, has more or less replaced it in today’s society even though they are not exactly the same. Both are negative and the debate of which word is worse is based entirely upon the person hearing it.

So when we see other people and instantly describe them internally and use certain terms to do so, does that mean we are prejudice?

If a person is seen as ‘weird’, does that mean we are mean and spiteful? If a person is seen as dangerous, does that mean we are stereotyping them? If we are asked to describe a person we saw at the store and we use a description of ‘6 foot white male with one arm, bald, and an odd smile’ does that mean we are insensitive to the fact he has one arm… or is bald… or smiles oddly… or is white? Does the meaning change somehow if we change it to an Asian man… Black man… Mexican man… or some guy who hasn’t showered in days so we can’t even see his skin?

Listen to the news and when they describe a suspect they tell you his or her height, approximate build, sex, color, nationality, distinctive marks, etc. The way things are going now it seems that many would like to remove our ability to describe people. You can’t say that the person is a man because maybe he isn’t. You can’t say someone is black or white or Asian because somehow that’s racist. You can’t say they are Jewish or Catholic or Muslim because that means you are intolerant. You can’t say they weigh 100 pounds or 300 pounds because then you are judging them. You can’t say they are 17 or 97 because now you are unfair to the young and hating the old.

No matter what anyone does to make us stop classifying people, it will not work. Our brains instinctively describe other people without directly thinking about doing so. It will always be that way. People may deny it and say that they see all people as equal and do not distinguish between them but they would be incorrect. It is impossible. We can say “I will see all people the same” but the brain will not fully allow it. Once the brain learns something, it does not un-learn it. And no matter what type of special training or world people live in, they cannot hide the truth from their brain.

Everything written above would not be an issue if humans would simply act with dignity to each other no matter who they are. But the word dignity has lost meaning in the minds of many people. Those that do have dignity are tired of being told they are bad or evil or intolerant or any other type of labeling simply because they don’t believe as others believe, which in turn makes them lose their dignity.

The saying ‘can’t we all just get along’ has great significance and is a question that can apparently only be answered with ‘as if that will ever happen’ or the all-telling ‘no’. I shake my head every day wondering why people can’t just let other people live their lives without interference or judgement. I don’t understand it, I don’t accept it, and I don’t live my life thinking others are bad simply because they are different than I am. Leave me alone and I will leave you alone.

I don’t care what you look like or what god you pray to or how bad you smell. Okay… maybe not the smell thing. Yes, that last sentence was a joke… mostly.

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